Leading article: Why a civilian should police the police


Friday 08 June 2012 23:54

That the Police Federation regards the nomination of Tom Winsor to be the next Chief Inspector of Constabulary as a "declaration of war", or at very least a provocation, will have come as no surprise to the Home Secretary. But that does not mean that Theresa May made her choice in order to pick a fight – more accurately, another fight – with the police. It might be that Mr Winsor is the best person for the job.

The Police Federation appears to have two main objections. The first is that Mr Winsor has never served as a police officer. The second is that he compiled a report on policing that the Federation did not like. Both might be seen by those who depend on the police for their own safety and that of their property – which is most of us – as positive recommendations. Two of the five current inspectors do not have a police background, so not to have pounded the beat is already no bar to appointment. And while a tendency to introspection and resistance to change is hardly unique to the police, it does seem particularly ingrained here. An outside eye has merit. The fact that the Police Federation was so upset by his report suggests that it touched some nerves.

Assuming he is confirmed in the post, Mr Winsor would be wise to tread carefully at the start – but not so carefully that the desire to bring change that he shares with the Home Secretary is dulled. The relatively small proportion of police who are on the streets at any one time, poor standards of physical fitness, outmoded shift patterns and the piling up of expensive overtime are all issues that should have been addressed even before the economic climate made cost-cutting urgent.

A refrain heard from the Police Federation yesterday was that no government would dream of recruiting a non-military person to oversee the armed forces. In fact, the appointment of Bernard Gray, a former businessman and journalist, to be the civil servant in charge of weapons procurement was a move in that very direction. Given the Ministry of Defence's record of multibillion cost overruns, putting a civilian in charge of more aspects of the military might be no bad thing.

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